66.1, February 2019

Recent & Relevant

Lyn Gattis, Editor

The following articles on technical communication have appeared recently in other journals. The abstracts are prepared by volunteer journal monitors. If you would like to contribute, contact Lyn Gattis at LynGattis@MissouriState.edu.

“Recent & Relevant” does not supply copies of cited articles. However, most publishers supply reprints, tear sheets, or copies at nominal cost. Lists of publishers’ addresses, covering nearly all the articles we have cited, appear in Ulrich’s international periodicals directory.


Communicating public avalanche warnings—what works?

Engeset, R., Pfuhl, G., Landrø, M., Mannberg, A., & Hetland, A. (2018). Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences, 18, 2537–2559. doi: 10.5194/nhess-18-2537-2018

“Like many other mountainous countries, Norway has experienced a rapid increase in both recreational winter activities and fatalities in avalanche terrain during the past few decades: during the decade 2008–2017, 64 recreational avalanche fatalities were recorded in Norway. This is a 106% increase from that of the previous decade. In 2013, Norway therefore launched the National Avalanche Warning Service (NAWS), which provides avalanche warnings to transport and preparedness authorities and to the public. . . . Avalanche warnings communicate complex natural phenomena with a variable complexity and level of uncertainty about both the future and the present. In order to manage avalanche risk successfully, it is fundamental that the warning message can be understood and translated into practice by a wide range of different user groups. . . . To evaluate how different modes of communication are understood, and how efficiently the informational content is communicated, [the authors] designed and implemented a web-based user survey. . . . [The] empirical analyses suggest that most users find the warning service to be useful and well suited to their needs. However, the effectiveness of a warning seems to be influenced by the competency of the user and the complexity of the scenarios. [The authors] discuss the findings and make recommendations on how to improve communication of avalanche warnings.”

Yvonne Wade Sanchez

Scientists’ views about communication objectives

Besley, J. C., Dudo, A., & Yuan, S. (2018). Public Understanding of Science, 27(6), 708–730. doi: 10.1177/0963662517728478

“This study looks at how United States–based academic scientists from five professional scientific societies think about eight different communication objectives. The degree to which scientists say they would prioritize these objectives in the context of face-to-face public engagement is statistically predicted using the scientists’ attitudes, normative beliefs, and efficacy beliefs, as well as demographics and past communication activity, training, and past thinking about the objectives. The data allow for questions about the degree to which such variables consistently predict views about objectives. The research is placed in the context of assessing factors that communication trainers might seek to reshape if they wanted get scientists to consider choosing specific communication objectives.”

Yvonne Wade Sanchez

Understanding the public, the visitors, and the participants in science communication activities

Kato-Nitta, N., Maeda, T., Iwahashi, K., & Tachikawa, M. (2017). Public Understanding of Science, 27(7), 857–875. doi: 10.1177/0963662517723258

“Despite the promotion of public engagement in science, there has been little empirical research on the sociocultural and attitudinal characteristics of participants in science communication activities and the extent to which such individuals are representative of the general population. [The authors] statistically investigated the distinctiveness of visitors to a scientific research institution by contrasting samples from visitor surveys and nationally representative surveys. The visitors had more cultural capital (science and technology/art and literature) and believed more in the value of science than the general public, but there was no difference regarding assessment of the levels of national science or of the national economy. A deeper examination of the variations in the visitors’ exhibit-viewing behaviors revealed that individuals with more scientific and technical cultural capital viewed more exhibits and stayed longer at the events. This trend in exhibit-viewing behaviors remained consistent among the different questionnaire items and smart-card records.”

Yvonne Wade Sanchez


Promoting inclusive and accessible design in usability testing: A teaching case with users who are deaf

Hutter, L., & Lawrence, H. M. (2018). Communication Design Quarterly Review, 6(2), 21–30.doi: 10.1145/3282665.3282668

“Drawing on an analysis of a usability teaching case with users who are deaf and who communicate using American Sign Language, [the authors] argue that there is a need for industry and the academy to refocus on more accessible testing practices, situated more decidedly within the social, cultural, and historical contexts of users. [The authors] offer guidelines for more inclusive practices for testing with users who are deaf prompting designers, developers, and students to think about systems of behavior, such as audism, cultural appropriation, and technological paternalism that undermine accessibility in their design and practices. More broadly, [the authors] propose ways in which instructors of technical communication can leverage usability tools and research methods to help students better understand their users for any artifact they design and create.”

Lyn Gattis

Up and down or side by side: Structuring comparisons in data tables

Lang, T. (2018). AMWA Journal, 33(3), 104–110. [doi: none]

This review of studies on table design and readability was conducted in the context of medical writing but is relevant to other types of data reporting. The author finds that “[w]e are physiologically more inclined to scan (and thus to compare) horizontally than vertically. In vertical comparisons, all numbers in each cell can easily be compared up and down rows, without visual interruption. In horizontal comparisons, numbers being compared are farther apart and can be separated by other elements in the cells. However, research and expert opinion differ on the preferred arrangement, indicating that the difference is likely not important. Of 109 books reviewed, 21 specifically recommended vertical comparisons, 11 used examples involving vertical comparisons, and 8 had examples of both arrangements or considered each arrangement appropriate. Only 13 specifically recommended horizontal comparisons, and 56 did not address the issue. The difference between arrangements does not appear to affect the utility of a table, although readers may intuitively prefer side-by-side comparisons. Fitting a table to the dimensions of a page is often more important than arranging the direction of the comparisons.”

Lyn Gattis


Beyond grammar: Tracking perceptions of quality in student e-mail

Blackburne, B. D., & Nardone, C. F. (2018). Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 48(4), 412–440. doi: 10.1177/0047281617730532

“This research explores a presumed link between today’s use of digital media and an ever-increasing lack of rhetorical awareness in students. Specifically, the study pilots a method for measuring rhetorical awareness through students’ e-mail transactions with faculty in technical writing service courses, questioning whether rhetorical awareness has decreased in the preceding 10 years. The findings indicate that students might be more rhetorically aware today than they were 10 years ago, but levels remain below expectations.”

Anita Ford

Student perceptions of a revise and resubmit policy for writing assignments

Garner, B., & Shank, N. (2018). Business and Professional Communication Quarterly, 81(3), 351–367. doi: 10.1177/2329490618784962

“Effective writing is a soft skill that is highly in demand in today’s workforce. This qualitative study examines student perceptions of a revise and resubmit policy aimed at increasing student engagement with an instructor’s writing feedback and ultimately improving students’ writing skills. Students across three business communication courses were offered bonus points if they made revisions and documented those revisions. The findings suggest that students were willing to complete a revision even if given only a small grade incentive. While some expressed negativity toward the extensive feedback, others viewed the revision option as a rare but valuable opportunity.”

Diana Fox Bentele


Legal and ethical implications of website accessibility

Palmer, Z. B., & Palmer, R. H. (2018). Business and Professional Communication Quarterly, 81(4), 399–420. doi: 10.1177/2329490618802418

This article is intended for writing instructors, but the legal cases it cites make it interesting for practitioners as well. “This article argues that business and professional communication practitioners, instructors, and students, besides becoming better informed about the legal context of website accessibility, should also become more aware of the ethical considerations of creating digital communication products that are inherently accessible for people with disabilities. Through a detailed review of the most important legal cases in the United States and discussion of ethical considerations concerning website accessibility for the disabled, [the authors] provide possible entrance points that will help instructors bring ethical considerations into the discussion of website accessibility. [The authors] urge instructors to regularly include disability in discussions of accessibility cases.”

Diana Fox Bentele

Metaphor use in Chinese and American CSR reports

Sun, Y., Jin, G., Yang, Y., & Zhao, J. (2018). IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 61(3), 295–310. doi: 10.1109/TPC.2018.2826759

“Corporate social responsibility (CSR) reports help develop concerned stakeholders’ perceptions of corporate image. This study investigates metaphor use as a discursive and cognitive strategy for developing corporate images in Chinese and American CSR reports using corpus-based conceptual metaphor analysis. Both countries’ CSR reports share most metaphor pairings that contribute to building corporate images of being economically competitive, ethically cooperative, and environmentally responsible. Although both stress self-development and taking a leading position, American companies pay more attention to external cooperation with others. Chinese companies stress internal cooperation and a well-organized hierarchy.”

Lyn Gattis

Participatory video methods in US: Sharing power with users to gain insights into everyday life

Rose, E., & Cardinal, A. (2018). Communication Design Quarterly Review, 6(2), 9–20. doi: 10.1145/3282665.3282667

“As technologies proliferate into all aspects of daily life, UX practitioners have the ability and responsibility to engage in research to help organizations better understand people’s needs. [The authors] argue that UX practitioners have an ethical commitment to deploy methods that consciously shift power to create a more equitable relationship between researcher and participants. This article offers participatory video as a method for UX practitioners that democratizes the design process and creates rich visual data. [The authors] detail two cases of participatory video methods and how they were used to explore the potential of participatory methods in UX.”

Lyn Gattis

Health communication

Connect with your patients, not the screen: Usability claims in electronic health records

Walkup, K. L. (2018). Communication Design Quarterly Review, 6(2), 31–40. doi: 10.1145/3282665.3282669

“This article examined the usability claims that Electronic Health Records (EHRs) make to healthcare providers. Usability claims appear as statements that persuade users to adopt the interface based on usability or user experience. These claims may show what healthcare providers are presumed to require from online health technologies. Usability claims in this study included intuitive interfaces, adaptability of documentation and records, and supplementing patient communication. Analyzing usability claims then becomes a way of understanding healthcare providers, their patients, and the technologies both use for health communication.”

Lyn Gattis

Information management

An investigation of maintenance technicians’ information-seeking behavior in a repair center

Lundin, J., & Eriksson, Y. (2018). IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 61(3), 257–274. doi: 10.1109/TPC.2018.2826087

“We lack a good understanding of maintenance technicians’ information-seeking behavior. For instance, little is known about what kinds of information needs that technicians exhibit and what types of sources they employ. Understanding such information-seeking behavior is essential to design useful information. Workplace observations reveal that technicians exhibited 50 different types of information needs. They seldom sought instructions covering an entire work task. Instead, to satisfy their information needs, they consulted four types of sources.” These sources included colleagues or customers, binders of information, digital databases, and readings or observations of machine operations.

Lyn Gattis

Learning to file: Reconfiguring information and information work in the early twentieth century

Robertson, C. (2017). Technology and Culture, 58(4), 955–981. doi: 10.1353/tech.2017.0110

“This article uses textbooks and advertisements to explore the formal and informal ways in which people were introduced to vertical filing in the early twentieth century. Through the privileging of ‘system’ an ideal mode of paperwork emerged in which a clerk could ‘grasp’ information simply by hand without having to understand or comprehend its content. A file clerk’s hands and fingers became central to the representation and teaching of filing. In this way, filing offered an example of a distinctly modern form of information work. Filing textbooks sought to enhance dexterity as the rapid handling of paper came to represent information as something that existed in discrete units, in bits that could be easily extracted. Advertisements represented this mode of information work in its ideal form when they frequently erased the worker or reduced him or her to hands, as ‘instant’ filing became ‘automatic’ filing, with the filing cabinet presented as a machine.”

Lyn Gattis

Intercultural issues

One word of heart is worth three of talent: Professional communication strategies in a Vietnamese nonprofit organization

Hopton, S. B., & Walton, R. (2018). Technical Communication Quarterly, 27(4). doi: 10.1080/10572252.2018.1530033

“This article reports findings from a month-long research project in Vietnam working with the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange (VAVA). The authors found that VAVA did not always abide [by] Western prescriptions for ‘good’ technical and scientific communication yet were extremely effective technical communicators among victims and families. This article reports findings that call for an expanded definition of what it means to practice good technical communication, especially in understudied cultural contexts.”

Rhonda Stanton


A multidimensional analysis of research article discussion sections in the field of chemical engineering

Jin, B. (2018). IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 61(3), 242–256. doi: 10.1109/TPC.2018.2817002

“This study investigates linguistic characterizations in the form of linguistic co-occurrence patterns in discussion sections of English research articles (RAs) in chemical engineering, and linguistic variations that distinguish discussion sections of high-impact articles from those in low-impact articles. Six linguistic co-occurrence patterns were identified in RA discussion sections. The results examine the linguistic characterizations in the RA discussion sections and interesting differences in the high- and low-impact discussion sections.”

Lyn Gattis

Resolving discourse at technical-support helpdesks

Robles, V. D. (2018). IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 61(3), 275–294. doi: 10.1109/TPC.2018.2813178

“This study examined discourse during problem resolution in face-to-face technical-support interactions between technical-support providers and users. Using speech-act discourse analysis, this study examined 17 helpdesk interactions that resolved problems. Statistically significant results about both speakers’ discourse indicate that typical instructional strategies (such as explanations) do not necessarily characterize more satisfactory interactions. Instead, providing minimal responses or giving background information from personal experience contribute toward satisfactory outcomes. Also, users’ facility in asking follow-up questions or giving further background information promotes satisfaction.”

Lyn Gattis


Visualizing certainty: What the cultural history of the Gantt chart teaches technical and professional communicators about management

Robles, V. D. (2018). Technical Communication Quarterly, 27(4), 300-321. doi: 10.1080/10572252.2018.1520025

“Using a cultural-historical genre analysis of the Gantt chart, the author describes how, when a project’s progress and scope are being considered, this popular project management visualization evokes managerial values of certainty and simplicity. These values, instantiated in early 20th-century scientific management philosophy, are made visually manifest in Henry L. Gantt’s popular chart. These charts require technical and professional communicators to gauge the rhetorical implications of using them when providing their expertise in communicating project management.”

Rhonda Stanton

Professional issues

The “reasonably bright girls”: Accessing agency in the technical communication workplace through interactional power

Petersen, E. J. (2018). Technical Communication Quarterly, 27(4). doi: 10.1080/10572252.2018.1540724

“Women continue to face difficulties in the technical and professional communication (TPC) workplace for a myriad of reasons. However, they are not powerless, and interviews with 39 female practitioners of TPC reveal that they use interactional power to maneuver within and around the system of the traditional workplace to solve problems of devaluation, exclusion, harassment, and siloing. A key aspect of being able to navigate power through interaction is becoming aware of the context in which power struggles take place and then using that knowledge to design new participation. Women who claim agency in the workplace understand that power is not possessed, but that they can access resources to participate in power shifts and dynamics.”

Rhonda Stanton


Contextual dropping, collateral data: Screenshot methods for UX research

Reimer, C. (2018). Communication Design Quarterly Review, 6(2), 83–92. doi: 10.1145/3282665.3282673

“This article presents a novel method for data collection. It relies on a larger case study of the game League of Legends to forward the concepts of contextual cropping and collateral data. Contextual cropping gives researchers recommendations for gathering data with screenshots while respecting the in situ ecology of that data. Contextual cropping complements screenshot data with contextual metadata and offers potential collateral data with which to further texture research.”

Lyn Gattis

Feminist digital research methodology for rhetoricians of health and medicine

De Hertogh, L. B. (2018). Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 32(4), 480–503. doi: 10.1177/1050651918780188

“This article argues that rhetoricians of health and medicine can benefit from new methodological orientations that more fully account for conducting digital research within vulnerable online communities. More specifically, this article introduces a feminist digital research methodology, an intersectional methodology that helps rhetoricians of health and medicine contend with the overlapping rhetorical, technological, and ethical frameworks affecting how we understand and collect health information, particularly within vulnerable online communities. The author considers methodological shifts in Internet research ethics, rhetorics of health and medicine, and feminist rhetorics as well as definitions and conceptions of online communities and vulnerability. The author next draws from a 5-year case study of an online childbirth community to demonstrate how a feminist digital research methodology offers an alternative methodological orientation that helps researchers navigate ethical decision-making practices that arise from conducting health research within vulnerable online communities. Finally, the author outlines the broader implications of this methodology by suggesting three ways that scholars can use it within and beyond the field.”

Sean C. Herring

Understanding “understanding” in Public Understanding of Science

Huxster, J. K., Slater, M. H., Leddington, J., LoPiccolo, V., Bergman, J., Jones, M., McGlynn, C., Diaz, N., Aspinall, N., Bresticker, J., & Hopkins, M. (2017). Public Understanding of Science, 27(7), 756–771. doi: 10.1177/0963662517735429

“This study examines the conflation of terms such as ‘knowledge’ and ‘understanding’ in peer-reviewed literature, and tests the hypothesis that little current research clearly distinguishes between importantly distinct epistemic states. Two sets of data are presented from papers published in the journal Public Understanding of Science. In the first set, the digital text analysis tool, Voyant, is used to analyze all papers published in 2014 for the use of epistemic success terms. In the second set of data, all papers published in Public Understanding of Science from 2010–2015 are systematically analyzed to identify instances in which epistemic states are empirically measured. The results indicate that epistemic success terms are inconsistently defined, and that measurement of understanding, in particular, is rarely achieved in public understanding of science studies. [The authors] suggest that more diligent attention to measuring understanding, as opposed to mere knowledge, will increase efficacy of scientific outreach and communication efforts.”

Yvonne Wade Sanchez


Introducing videoconferencing on tablet computers in nurse–patient communication: Technical and training challenges

Rygg, L. O., Brataas, H. V., & Nordtug, B. (2018). International Journal of Telemedicine and Applications, Article ID 8943960. doi: 10.1155/2018/8943960

“This article examines personnel and patient experiences of videoconferencing (VC) trials on tablet computers between oncology certified nurses (OCNs) and patients with cancer who live at home. The study points to organizational pitfalls during the introduction process. In many different arenas, the use of VC has increased recently owing to improved Internet access and capacity. This creates new opportunities for contact between patients living at home and their nurses. Video conferencing presupposes knowledge about Internet access, training, and usability of technological equipment. The aim of this pilot study was to illuminate patients’ and nurses’ experiences of the technical functionality, usability, and training of tablet use in VC in primary cancer care. . . . The analysis revealed two main categories: network connectivity and tablet usability and training and educational pitfalls. When planning VC implementation, the organizational leadership should consider network access and stability, as well as individualized VC training on tablets. Ensuring patient safety should also be a priority. Further research should provide knowledge of technological and educational pitfalls, and possible implications of VC on the care quality of nursing.”

Yvonne Wade Sanchez


The recalcitrant invention of X-ray images

Gibbons, M. (2018). Technical Communication Quarterly, 27(4). doi: 10.1080/10572252.2018.1539193

“This article extends new materialist theorizing on the constructive role played by the physical stuff of the world. Specifically, it draws on Kenneth Burke’s writings on recalcitrance to theorize the materialities of rhetorical invention. It takes X-rays as a case study in recalcitrance-driven invention, focusing on two particular applications, traditional medical X-rays, a pervasive category of contemporary technical communication, and backscatter X-ray airport security scans, a controversial and short-lived one. Its analysis shows how recalcitrance (1) is harnessed as means of technical invention and (2) is key to invention’s bidirectionality, by which our material interventions, in turn, work upon us.”

Rhonda Stanton


Applying usability and user experience within academic contexts: Why progress remains slow

Sauer, G. (2018). Technical Communication Quarterly, ٢٧(4), 362-371. doi: 10.1080/10572252.2018.1521637

“In his 2013 article ‘Slow Ideas,’ Harvard professor and MacArthur fellow Atul Gawande discusses two forms of disciplinary change. He describes two surgical innovations from the mid-19th century, and traces why one (anesthesia) was easily and rapidly adopted, whereas the other (antiseptic) was accepted only slowly, over the course of decades. This happened because the more significant innovation (antiseptic) required a fundamental redefinition of the profession of surgery, including a significant rethinking of the field’s methods and values. Instead of ‘warriors against disease,’ surgeons needed to become scrupulously sterile practitioners of cleanlinessand many, advanced in their careers, resisted such a change. This article contends that usability and user experience represent a similarly slow change in the field of technical communication, and that we are still in the midst of transformations within our discipline which may require similar redefinition of scholarly work within this field.”

Rhonda Stanton

How to be open: User experience and technical communication in an emerging game development methodology

Thominet, L. (2018). Communication Design Quarterly Review, 6(2), 70–82. doi: 10.1145/3282665.3282672

“This study builds a model of open video game development, an emerging user-centered design practice where a developer publicly releases an incomplete game and iterates on it while gathering feedback from the player community. It argues that open development is fundamentally a communication and user experience practice characterized by a commitment to access, transparency, and feedback. Ultimately, it shows open development as a practice where game developers are consciously designing a compelling experience of participation in user research.”

Yvonne Wade Sanchez

Improving onboarding with employee experience journal mapping: A fresh take on a traditional UX technique

McKelvey, H. & Frank, J. L. (2018). Weave, 1(9). doi: 10.3998/weave.12535642.0001.903

An important part of project management is inculcating new team members. This project brought user experience (UX) aspects into these internal issues. The authors “present a creative method for applying the UX technique of journey mapping to improve the onboarding experience of new employees in any organization. Journey mapping is a well-known design research tool used to gain insight into how a user experiences a service, process, or product, with the goal of making informed improvements to deliver a better experience for future users. [The authors] argue that journey mapping can also be used to improve the internal process of onboarding new employees and improve the experience for future new hires, which is important because positive onboarding experiences are linked to increased productivity and greater employee retention. . . .” The authors share methods as well as “findings, recommendations, and lessons learned.” Their toolkit, complete with templates, is available at https://jacquelinelfrank.wordpress.com/my-work/exjm-toolkit/.

Diana Fox Bentele

Live-action communication design: A technical how-to video case study

Eriksson, P. E., & Eriksson, Y. (2018). Technical Communication Quarterly, ٢٧(4). doi: 10.1080/10572252.2018.1528388

“This case study is based on a research through design project (RTD) that focuses on a technical communication video of the live-action format. It investigates the usability and design-implications of a live-action how-to video, by means of analyzing user-centered data such as YouTube analytics data, usability, and comprehension assessments. In the study, four key live-action video affordances are identified: verifiability, comparability, recordability, and visibility. The identification of these affordances when related to the users’ assessments resulted in several design implementations that would warrant sought-for communication efficacies. Findings show that some assumed efficacies appear to be mitigated by the complexity and the density of the video information. One implication of this is that the implementation of conventional video editing techniques and the addition of on-screen text that serve to make content briefer and more concise into instructional live-action videos require the technical communicator’s careful consideration.”

Rhonda Stanton